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Jack Wilshere’s Arsenal career is at a crossroads

Out of the England squad and on his way out of Arsenal, Jack Wilshere’s career is at a crossroads.

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England v Iceland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

While there was an outpouring of shock, rage and grief on Monday night at the news that Arsenal were willing to loan out Jack Wilshere, there shouldn’t have been. In truth, hints had been dropping for a few days. On Saturday, Jeremy Wilson of the Telegraph, a fairly well-connected journalist at Arsenal, tweeted that it would be interesting to see how Arsenal reacted to a bid for Wilshere, with Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Mohamed Elneny, Francis Coquelin and perhaps most worryingly for Wilshere, Santi Cazorla all ahead of the Englishman.

He repeated the assertion on Sunday, on Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement. On Sunday, Sam Allardyce released his first England squad, with Jack Wilshere not in it—not in it because he has not been playing for Arsenal. And on Monday, it came full circle with the national media reporting that Wilshere is ready to leave in search of first team football.

There are the obvious statistics. 37 minutes played this season, 141 last, 897 the season before; the equivalent to 12 full games since the end of the 2013/14 season. In that time, Arsenal have brought Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka into the side, and have converted Santi Cazorla into a central midfielder. All of that should be galling to the Englishman. While Xhaka and Wilshere ostensibly play different positions, buying Xhaka also speaks to the failure of Wilshere to stay fit, or to add tactical nous to his game.

At one point, as he starred for England in a deep role, receiving possession and playing an array of long, vertical passes as well as short passes, he looked as if he could replicate that role at club level, especially as Mikel Arteta was breaking down and Mathieu Flamini was, well, Mathieu Flamini.

Now, Arsène Wenger has Mohamed Elneny to deputise for Xhaka, as well as Francis Coquelin, who, while terrible, at least has an idea of what he’s doing defensively, even if it’s a bad one; Wilshere, with 2 tackles and 0 interceptions in 113 European Championship minutes, and 1.7 tackles and 1 interception per 90 minutes in his last 1060 minutes for Arsenal, does not. Furthermore, Wilshere is now behind Cazorla, and that should be concerning for Cazorla offers much the same as Wilshere: passing from deep, the ability to dribble away from players while under some pressure, limited goal threat and dynamism in the final third. When Wilshere has played for Arsenal in the last 18 months, it has often been from the right-hand side; not as a deep play maker, not as a #8, not as the #10 on the back of his shirt, but as a wide playmaker. He is a player without a position, and soon a player without a permanent club.

His immediate concern is likely to find playing time so he can get back into the England side. His performance at the Euros—apparently a guideline as to whether Arsenal would offer him a new contract—was dismal, with Wilshere a clear second choice to Eric Dier. He is now behind Dier and Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater, with Sam Allardyce openly exploring the possibility of Steven N’Zonzi playing for England. Wayne Rooney has taken another midfield place, and while there are issues with Rooney’s own midfield performances, when Wilshere had the chance to dislodge him in June against Slovakia, he failed to. Tottenham’s Dele Alli, not on the radar the last time Jack Wilshere completed 90 minutes for Arsenal (September 2014), has a well-earned starting role ahead of him. But Wilshere should be also concerned about his Arsenal place.

He has, through his own developmental inertia and injury, quickly become 4th choice. Youngsters like Jeff Reine-Adelaide and especially Alex Iwobi could move him further behind on the depth chart. Arsène Wenger, Wilshere’s biggest advocate, who changed a successful set-up in 2014/15 to force Wilshere into the side, moving Mesut Özil to an unfavourable wide position in the process, is no longer building a team around Wilshere; he’s now building it without him. Even if Wilshere is in the long-term plans at Arsenal, Wenger sees fit to not include him in the short term, and with Wenger out of contract at the end of the year, there must surely be uncertainty as to whether Wilshere remains, with his contract expiring in two summers.

One England coach wanted to spend time with Wilshere on the training pitch and re-programme him and the way he plays, efforts which he’s resisted, saying he doesn’t think he can change. Wilshere may find that he may be left with no choice but to change. England have moved on from his talent and potential, and while international football is reactive and pragmatic, his club side, the team that have protected him through injury and off-field shenanigans, now feel comfortable doing so too.